In Memoriam: Oklahoma halfback Grant Burget was a great athlete and a 'tough SOB'

Burget grew up in central Oklahoma, emerged as a starter in 1973 and starred on Barry Switzer's national championship team in 1974
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Grant Burget, a starting halfback on Barry Switzer’s first University of Oklahoma football team in 1973, died Friday. He was 69.

Burget was an OU backup in 1972, then became a starter his junior year as Switzer took the reins from Chuck Fairbanks. But although a knee injury took him down in the 1973 opener against Baylor, he returned to the lineup as a senior and shared carries with dynamic players like Joe Washington and Elvis Peacock.

“Grant was a heck of a player,” former teammate Tinker Owens told SI Sooners. “People don’t recall that because they remember Billy Sims and Joe Washington and Greg Pruitt. But you play with those guys, you’re in pretty good company.”

Grant Burget

Grant Burget

From their time at Oklahoma and throughout the years, Burget and Washington, a two-time All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist, became best friends.

“It hurts every time I think about it,” Washington told SI Sooners. “He meant a lot to me, especially when I got back. He was there. We’ve always been able to call each other. I’m gonna truly, truly — I miss him already because he’s not there.”

Burget in recent years battled multiple ailments. His brother, Barry Burget, told The Oklahoman he “had a rough few years. Particularly the last few months.”

“It’s tough,” Washington said. “These situations happen and you say, ‘Well, he’s in a better place.’ But we’re human, little bitty being, and we’re selfish. No matter what state they’re in, we want ‘em there for us. You know what I mean? I just hate that he’s gone. I won’t be able to call him. I just feel like part of me has been snatched out.”

“Sure hate to lose a great friend like him, and teammate,” said Owens, an All-American receiver for the Sooners in 1974 and ’75. “Grant was a great friend. Fortunately, I got to see him recently, prior to the whole COVID thing.”

Burget, a natural athlete and a coach’s kid from Stroud, started the ’73 season opener and early on had an exceedingly bright future as the Sooners built a 35-0 halftime lead in Waco. Washington, Waymon Clark and Steve Davis set a school record by becoming the first trio to all rush for more than 100 yards in a game. But Burget was injured on his fourth carry, at the end of a 23-yard run, and his season was over.

He came back the following year and again won the starting job, operating in a backfield with Davis, Washington and fullback Jim Littrell. Burget ran 65 times for 379 yards and eight touchdowns as Switzer’s wishbone powered the Sooners to their first of two straight national championships.

“He was fun. Man, he was fun,” Washington said. “But he was a tough SOB, I’ll tell you that. Big and strong and didn’t have any qualms when it came to blocking on that belly play when he’d go off in there and get that tackle. Never thought twice about it. When you got a guy like that, it puts even a little bit more pressure on you to make sure that you make a block for him. … Because you know that’s what he’s gonna do.”

The 6-foot-1, 191-pound Burget was a 15th-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1975, the 372nd overall pick. He was one of 10 Sooners drafted that year but didn’t play in the league. He became a stock broker in Oklahoma City before moving to Vinita, OK, where he retired from the Grand River Dam Authority. Owens said Burget lived his final years where he grew up, in Chandler.

Washington said he thinks he and Burget became such great friends because they shared so many things in common.

“Like myself, he ran the hurdles,” Washington said. “His dad was a coach. My dad was a coach. He understood football. He was a realist. He knew how things were. He was a guy who, you ask him, he’s gonna tell you exactly how things were.

“Him being a coach’s son also, it seemed like we had that sort of — how can I put it? — that bit of communication that allows you to know you’re on the same wavelength without ever saying anything because you’re coming from the same place.”

Burget is the third former player the Sooners lost in February. Defensive back Darrius Johnson, who played for Gary Gibbs and Howard Schnellenberger from 1992-95, died Thursday. And George Bradfield, who played on Bud Wilkinson’s first national championship team in 1950, died on Feb. 14.

“Grant was always happy. Always smiling. Always in a good mood," Owens said. " … He was just a good guy. Just liked to have a good time. I liked to have a good time too, which is why we got along so well.

“He was a super friend. We had great times.”

“It hurts, man,” Washington said. “It’s hard. I lost one of my best friends, and my teammate.”